DEP Secretary John Quigley told the House Environmental Resources and Energy and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees Monday, Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Program is all about improving local water quality, but has been faced with inadequate resources and data on conservation practices to do its job.
Secretary Quigley also said the real-world water sampling results in the watershed show the reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment have been more than the Chesapeake Bay Model accounts for.
His remarks were made during an information meeting held by the two committees on the Wolf Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Reboot Strategy.
On the issue of accurate information on conservation practices on the ground, Denise Coleman, Pennsylvania State Conservationist from USDA NRCS, told the Committees a recent NRCS survey in 5 counties, prompted by DEP, found twice as many conservation practices were actually on the ground than were recorded as cost-share projects. NRCS hopes to release the survey results in April.
Secretary Quigley and Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding provided a joint written statement to the Committees on the Bay Program Reboot.
Also providing comments were Christopher Thompson, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Conservation District and representing the PA Association of County Conservation District and Dean Richard Roush of the Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
In opening comments Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said Pennsylvania started reducing nutrients going to the Bay 30 years ago and getting to where we want to go is what the meeting is about.
Secretary Redding noted agriculture has significant responsibility for reductions in nutrients and sediments going to the Bay.
Secretary Redding said for agriculture the goals of the Reboot Strategy are to improve water quality, but also to have viable farms. He noted the Chesapeake Bay model is incomplete and does not capture many of the everyday good conservation practices farmers put on the ground to reduce pollution.
He said the farm community has already accomplished significant reductions, but clearly farmers need to do more.
DEP Secretary John Quigley told the Committees this is a conversation about improving local water quality and then the Chesapeake Bay. Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law required the restoration and maintenance of water quality in the Commonwealth long before the Chesapeake Bay requirements were set.
Secretary Quigley noted DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn was not at the meeting, but her agency will be responsible under the Reboot Strategy for increasing the installation of forested stream buffers, which, he said, is one of the cheapest ways available to reduce pollution.
Secretary Quigley said the Chesapeake Bay Program has been facing inadequate resources and inadequate data for a long time. He explained there is inadequate information, in particular, about non-cost-share farm best management practices now on the ground that DEP hopes to rectify through a Penn State University-led survey of farmers in the watershed to identify their conservation practices.
Secretary Quigley said the real-world water sampling results show the reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment have been more than the Bay model accounts for.
For example, actual water quality data released by U.S.G.S. in October 2015 show a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 25 percent reduction in sediment and a 29 percent reduction in phosphorous.
The Chesapeake Bay Model shows a 6 percent reduction in nitrogen, 15 percent sediment reduction and a 25 percent reduction in phosphorus.
In a follow-up question from Rep. Maher, Secretary Quigley said the Bay Model will be recalibrated this year and DEP will be “arm wrestling” with EPA to make sure the Model reflects more reality.
Secretary Quigley added another important part of the Reboot Strategy is encouraging a “culture of compliance” in the farm community to meet farm conservation plan regulations that have been in place for years.
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), Majority Chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said he was glad the agencies were taking steps to give farmers the credit they deserve for installing conservation districts. He asked if the county conservation districts were at the table in developing the new Strategy.
Secretary Quigley said there are 41 conservation districts in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and they were at the table to a “limited extent.”
He said the Reboot Strategy calls for paying districts for 50 farm inspections per technician per year rather than for 100 educational visits per year. The program will be voluntary on the behalf of districts. There will be two primary questions asked during the inspection visits: Does the farm have an erosion and sediment control plan and a manure management plan? Both of which, he noted, have been required for years.
If districts don’t take on this responsibility, then DEP will have to find other ways to accomplish these inspections. Quigley said. He also said any enforcement actions resulting from the inspections would be taken by DEP, not the conservation districts.
The reason DEP is looking to conservation districts is because DEP has fallen short of an EPA requirement to inspect 10 percent of the 33,600 farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed annually. In 2014 he said DEP inspected only 1.8 percent of farms.
Secretary Quigley said a group of districts will be meeting in the near future to go over the details of the new Strategy.
Rep. Causer expressed concerns about shifting the role of conservation districts from helping farmers to being involved in enforcement actions.
In response to a question from Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Monore), Minority Chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, Secretary Redding said there is no going forward to getting this job done on the Bay Strategy without conservation districts; they are that important. He said they hope further discussions will iron out any difficulties raised so far.
Rep. Mike Tobash (R- Dauphin) asked about whether a competitive bidding process and new technologies could be used to achieve some of the pollution reductions required in the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Secretary Quigley said DEP has proposed changes to its Nutrient Credit Trading Program to make the program more viable by expanding it to stormwater management and possibly to interstate trading.
Secretary Quigley said there is a role for technology to reduce nutrients, but to be viable, many facilities would have to sell nutrient credits for $9 per pound, not the $1 per pound now being traded in PennVEST.
He said forest buffers are much more cost effective “by a mile.” He said the kinds of manure technologies used so far need significant subsidies by the public.
Rep. Maher said President Obama’s proposed budget cuts funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Clean Water Revolving Fund to finance wastewater plant upgrades and asked what DEP is doing on those issues.
Secretary Quigley said he is worried first about the state’s own budget issues, but would share any communication he has with federal officials on the subject.
Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) asked if there is any scientific proof the nutrient and sediment reductions have made any difference in the Chesapeake Bay water quality. Secretary Quigley said yes, there is data showing water quality improvement in the Bay.
He noted again he is focused on improving water quality in Pennsylvania and water quality sampling results show 69 percent of sites have documented improved water quality going to the Bay.
Secretary Quigley said we are on the right track, but we have to keep going.
During his comments, Dean Richard Roush of the Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences noted nutrient and sediment reduction is not only a problem in Pennsylvania, but globally and Penn State has many resources to deal with this issue.
Roush said Penn State is conducting a farm conservation survey of 20,000 farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as part of the reboot of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Letters went out by mail and the survey is online. In addition, Roush said 10 percent of the respondents will be visited to verify the survey results to help make its data more acceptable to environmental agencies.
He noted no individual information about farmers will be forwarded to DEP or any other agency. It will be aggregated by county.
Roush said there is no doubt there should be an increase in farm conservation practices and said there is a meeting in Hershey March 1-3 on Strategies To Meet Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Commitments.
Roush also said the current state budget situation needs to be resolved highlighting the announcement the President of Penn State made Friday that he may have to lay off 1,100 employees from Penn State Extension, who help advise farmers and others on environmental issues, because of the unresolved budget.
Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry) asked about surveying other possible sources of pollution, including developers and homeowners on lawn fertilizer, as well as surveying farmers.
Roush said about one-third of nutrient runoff pollution comes from municipal stormwater runoff. He said any further surveys would be a matter of resources.
Rep. Maher asked whether the Chesapeake Bay milestones are attainable with existing best management practices and without radical changes to Pennsylvania agriculture. Roush said he is optimistic Pennsylvania agriculture “can make this all work” and put conservation practices on the ground. He noted there have been some examples of livestock operations starting in counties outside of concentrated areas like Lancaster.
Christopher Thompson, District Manager, Lancaster County Conservation District and representing the PA Association of Conservation Districts, said whether you are in the Bay area or not clean water is important to everyone.
Thompson expressed a concern about the lack of contact between DEP and conservation districts on developing the Reboot Strategy, but there has been recent overtures on meetings with DEP.
In response to question from Rep. Maher, Thompson said the Strategy will change the role of conservation districts which are now a buffer between DEP and farmers. Districts are like “conservation evangelists,” he said.
He said the Reboot Strategy will make conservation districts the “dirt police,” but Thompson quickly added, farmers will still want districts on the ground rather than DEP or other agencies. Noting there are 66 districts, he said, and other districts will feel comfortable working within the new guidelines.
Thompson said DEP will be meeting with conservation districts on the details of the new program in the next few weeks. One change already being made is the implementation date for the district portion of the Reboot Strategy is to be July 1 rather than January 1.
Thompson noted DEP’s budget has been cut significantly over the last few years. He explained the more DEP’s budget is cut, the more those responsibilities fall on groups like conservation districts.
Denise Coleman, Pennsylvania State Conservationist from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, said her agency has provided over $200 million to support Chesapeake Bay-related conservation practices in Pennsylvania through the federal Farm Bill.
She said among the projects funded were 759 agricultural waste storage facilities and related manure management plans, 533 stream crossings and redoing 1million square feet of heavy animal use areas, installing conservation buffers, developing farm nutrient management plans and other practices.
Since 2009, NRCS has provided conservation districts and nonprofit organizations with $9 million to provide technical assistance to put conservation practices on the ground that equals about 50 employees, Coleman said.
On the issue of accurate information on conservation practices on the ground, Coleman said a recent NRCS survey in 5 counties, prompted by DEP, found twice as many conservation practices were actually on the ground than were recorded as cost-share projects. NRCS hopes to release the survey results in April.
Coleman said her agency supports giving at least partial credit for farm conservation practices even if they do not meet NRCS standards.
Copies of written comments and presentations made to the Committee are available online--
-- Fact Sheet On Chesapeake Bay Reboot By DEP, Agriculture, DCNR;
-- Comments Of Christopher Thompson, Lancaster County Conservation District;
-- Letter To DEP, Agriculture on Reboot from Lancaster County Conservation District;
-- Comments of Denise Coleman, PA State Conservationist, USDA NRCS;
Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: email@example.com. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Majority Chair of the House Agriculture Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: email@example.com. Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the DEP, Agriculture Bay Strategy, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program webpage.
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